Each year, the NFL forms a paid group called The Super Bowl Host Committee. The team has a Chairman, a President, and an executive leadership team comprised of out-of-town experts whose careers are marked with managing major event after major event – from The Olympics to special sporting events to Super Bowls. The rest of the Super Bowl Host Committee consists of handpicked locals who are experts in their specialization.
The Super Bowl Host Committee is responsible for helping with all NFL approved activities (NFL Experience, Taste of the NFL, the Super Bowl Pre-Game Show, the Super Bowl Half Time Show, NFL approved private parties, any so much more). The committee is responsible for raising funds (in the millions of dollars) through corporate sponsorships, coordinating city logistics, parking logistics, airport logistics, promotion, marketing, advertising and organizing a volunteer program of over 7,000 local people.
In 2003, I became the 38th
Director of the Volunteer Program
for Houston Super Bowl XXXVIII (38).
What I didn’t know is that this job didn’t come with a manual, training, or any guidance from the previous 37 Directors. It was a learn-as-you-go experience. No big deal, right? I mean, it’s just the Super Bowl.
My son was about 11 at the time. I was a single mom playing in the big league with the big boys. There was no room for error. If I didn’t succeed, I could kiss my career goodbye. But things did go wrong, and through this once-in-a-lifetime worst and greatest role of my career is where my highest growth as a person, a mom and a professional occurred.
As the Director of the Volunteer Program, I was responsible for creating an advertising strategy to promote and encourage volunteer participation, assign and lead 150 Volunteer Captains who would help manage the other 7,000 volunteers, schedule volunteers based on what events they wanted to help with, volunteer communication, volunteer coordination, creating a Volunteer Command Center where volunteers trained and answered questions from other volunteers, and working with dozens corporations who had contributed millions of dollars towards the Super Bowl Volunteer Program to ensure their involvement was reciprocated with the agreed upon advertising of their company and that their employees were guaranteed a volunteer shift if they chose to participate.
I had one year to make all of this happen. Most Volunteer Directors are hired at least two years before the Super Bowl. We were way behind and the pressure was like no other I had ever experienced. I use to say, if I didn’t throw up, it was a good day. That’s how I measured my stress level.
I learned very quickly that everything the Host Committee did, right or wrong, was up for scrutiny by the media. This wasn’t a job where I could call in sick, leave early or delay a project. You were on, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 365 days leading up to the Super Bowl. My mother died of a heart attack in her sleep during this time. Her funeral was on the day where I was to meet the press, several football celebrities, and 300+ children for a pre-Super Bowl fun day at the stadium. I missed my mother’s funeral, unable to take time off to travel to where she had lived.
I slept with my cell phone. It was not uncommon to get a call or email at 1:00 AM from the President of the Host Committee asking for a report by 8:00 AM the next morning. I worked Memorial Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve; every holiday, every weekend. This was my life for a year.
I wish I could share every experience, but that would turn this article into a book. Here are a few of my greatest and worst moments, how I handled them and what I learned from them.c
I was asked to review a software that would help us manage volunteers, allow them to schedule their shifts online and communicate with them. As a former database developer, this was a project I was well equipped to handle. After reviewing the software, I strongly discouraged the President from buying it; it wasn’t scalable and it had glitches. But it was affordable and he vetoed my recommendation.
As people began to schedule their shifts, a glitch occurred in the software and an email was sent to each and every volunteer containing the social security number of other volunteers and all of the shifts that had been scheduled were deleted. We are talking in the thousands. I got a call at midnight from the Chairman of the Board who was not happy. The media got a hold of it and it was a press nightmare. Needless to say, I was the one who took the heat for the mishap.
The Lesson: Stand your ground no matter how far up the ladder a leader is. You are hired for your expertise an opinion – don’t back off just because the person telling you no is above you in the chain of command. If you have to, go to their chain of command. I wish I had.
When unforeseen disaster
happens, get creative. There is
always a solution.
I hired a programmer and enlisted the help of 12 incredible volunteers to reschedule every volunteer - by hand. We were able to print out volunteer info and email them to ask them what they had originally selected. I created a conveyor-belt like line where we sifted and sorted papers, each paper representing a volunteer and placed them in the bin that represented what shift they wanted. Our programmer helped us code it all back into the software. We worked 24 hours a day for 2 weeks straight.
The Lesson: I learned how devoted people are to you and your cause if you lead by example. I slept at the volunteer command center (with my son) in a sleeping bag. Many of my volunteers did too, refusing to leave my side.
Listen to your instincts -
above all else -
and everyone else.
Because of the hiccups from the volunteer software, we were now only weeks away from the NFL approved events and the Super Bowl. The average volunteer shift required 150 volunteers. I felt with all of my heart and soul that we would have massive attrition. If the shift required 150, I booked 250. I did this for every shift. Everyone thought I was crazy. No one believed in me. Everyone told me too many people would show and the volunteers would be furious when they were turned way. I had so much negativity coming at me that there were moments when I even began to doubt myself. But my intuition told me to stand by my decision.
When the events began to happen and ultimately the Super Bowl, the NFL rep called me each day, several times a day, with an update on volunteer show rate. Every single volunteer shift came in at 100%, 105%, 95% show rate. We had exactly the amount of attrition I predicted and had prepared for. The NFL rep told that in the history of the other 37 Super Bowls, they had never seen such a successful volunteer program with 100% show rate for each shift.
The Lesson: Believe in yourself and listen to your feelings. How you feel is a strong indicator of whether or not what you’re about to do is the right decision or the wrong decision. Also, practice affirmations. I imagined a successful Volunteer Program every single day, talking out loud in my car on the way to work, on the way home, casting out to the universe my intentions with pure belief that what I was proclaiming would come true.
And it did.
Everything you do is a teachable moment
as a parent or to others who look up to you.
My young son watched me work ungodly hours. He saw me cry, he saw me stress. Yet I kept going. He asked me in a frantic and worried voice, “Mom, why don’t you just quit.” Teachable Moment: I responded, “Son, you never quit anything in life. You may fail, but you never quit.” To this day, Hunter remembers this experience and has an incredible work ethic because of it.
The Lesson: You never know who is watching your actions and learning from you. Set an example that helps others to grow.
The greatest moment was when I walked my son into the stadium on Super Bowl day. It made every tough moment worth it to watch him so happy and to give him a once-in-a-lifetime experience of going to the Super Bowl.
I am proud to have served as the 38th Director of the Volunteer Program for the Houston Super Bowl XXXVIII. Looking back now, there are so many stressful moments that happened that wouldn’t even phase me now. It shaped who I am as a professional and revealed a level of strength, courage, determination and commitment inside of me that has been the foundation of my character in every job I have committed to since.